Man about town From street style to high fashion to costume design, ‘GQ Style’s’ Mobolaji Dawodu is the guy to follow
You may not know his name or how to pronounce it. But if you’re even a casual fan of men’s fashion, pop culture and global swagger, you’ll want to brush up real quick on Mobolaji Dawodu.
Dawodu is GQ Style magazine’s fashion editor, a gig the New York-based stylist was apparently born to do — and do really well. He travels the world styling photo shoots for A-list creative types with glittering names and beautiful faces. But Dawodu’s own sophisticated sense of style is as appealing — if not more so — than the folks he dresses for magazines and film. What he gives to celebs and artists is that elusive “It” thing he himself has in spades. His signature look involves a modern fusion of quirky hats, unique eyeglasses and brightly colored clothing done up in ethnic patterns and prints.
And, if that isn’t enough, homie is also rumored to be dating fashion and film goddess extraordinaire Lupita Nyong’o. (When asked about his relationship with Nyong’o, Dawodu offers a reporter the polite stiff-arm by saying, “Lupita has great personal style and she’s a cool lady. We worked on The Queen of Katwe together,” where Dawodu was the film’s costume designer.)
In other words, it’s good to be Mobolaji right now. Which he knows. He’s cool about it, for sure, but he has to be. Dawodu is the rare African-American who sits atop an international fashion pyramid that is uber-exclusive and notoriously frosty to outsiders who lack the right pedigree. But Dawodu is an industry veteran who worked as Fader magazine’s style editor-at-large and has numerous commercial advertising credits, including Nike and Apple. He now has a unique platform to tell people what’s new, what’s best and what’s trending around the world.
The GQ Style gig also gives Dawodu an opportunity to work with newcomers and giants, such as the recent photo shoot that showcased “Ten Giants of Jazz,” including Herbie Hancock, Pharoah Sanders, Ron Carter, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. “We shot them over two days in L.A. and one in New York,” Dawodu remembered. “They were all a real trip. Almost all of them pulled me aside and said, ‘I’m proud of you,’ which was, like, are you kidding me? Herbie Hancock — what?! Those dudes grew up in a time where there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in my position. Everyone was open and real cool. It was, without a doubt, one of the best shoots of my career.”
If you follow his addictive Instagram page or flip through the current edition of Conde Nast’s glossy, oversized menswear tome, you quickly understand that Dawodu is leading the life every fashion-obsessed suburban dreamer aspires to. In the last six months, the editor has visited more 10 countries while styling the magazine’s high-voltage photo shoots, including the covers featuring Grammy darling Kendrick Lamar, Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. and Oscar-winner Jared Leto.
Dawodu was born in Richmond, Virginia, and was raised in Lagos, Nigeria, until he was 11. After his family returned to the United States, he attended high school in Virginia and moved to New York at age 18 to study fashion merchandising. It wasn’t long before he found work in the fashion industry as a freelance stylist. Being around the world’s most stylish people — musicians, actors, designers, business and media types — has had a cumulative and subconscious effect on Dawodu. The relentless pace of his global travel has changed his eye and widened his taste net.
“The more you see, the more you know what you’re open to,” Dawodu said. “Without a doubt, my style has evolved since I was in my teens. I’ve traveled a lot and I’m Nigerian, so it really is about being a part of the world, both personally and professionally. Maybe it’s because I’m African that I’m more geared toward prints and wearing traditional clothing like caftans and fabrics with a lot of color.
“But being in an environment where people are truly interested in having a unique style has had an effect on me, and Asia and Africa are two the places where you see people who love pattern and color. I love traveling to both for work and on my own.
“There are lot of people out there with amazing style,” Dawodu said. “Part of what excites me about GQ Style isn’t about clothes; it’s about taste. It’s about how you move through the world and about having your moment, so to speak. There are so many people out there who are fly and having their own moment. I totally get that — being true to yourself and owning who you are is what makes you stylish.”
Will Welch, GQ Style editor-in-chief, says fashion coverage at the magazine is about “advanced personal style. And that’s where Mobolaji is a visionary and a wizard. His tastes transcend trends, and his point of view is completely global. So when the artists and athletes we photograph step out of the dressing room, they don’t look like they got a makeover,” Welch continued, “They look like the flyest version of themselves.”
Besides his work as a fashion editor, Dawodu often works as the costume designer on films with actors and actresses of color in leading and supporting roles. He just wrapped filming for Monster, which is based on the novel by Walter Dean Myers and stars Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Nas and A$AP Rocky. Dawodu singles out Rocky as “the style icon of this generation right now. He has such a personal charisma and style, and he has such good personal taste. He knows what he likes — he’s a style maverick.”
“Actually,” he continued, “Rocky and Lupita have that X factor that makes them believe in themselves 100 percent. There are so many ways that artists can get the best clothes before regular people — through stylists or a personal relationship with a designer. But some artists have the confidence to take those clothes and make them really stand out.
“You know, really good fashion is not about money,” Dawodu concluded. “It’s about style and taste.”